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http://www.ai.mit.edu/

The ArtificialIntelligence lab of the MassachusettsInstituteOfTechnology? (MIT). It is where we get HackerCulture and FreeSoftware.

For other fun MIT-isms, see also http://hacks.mit.edu/Hacks/.

See WikiPedia:MIT_AI_Lab.

See also the MITMediaLab.


Would we describe HackerCulture and FreeSoftware as having come from the AI lab, or MIT in general?

Good question. HackerCulture comes from MIT and the Model Railroad club, but has been added to and changed by PhonePhreak?s, the cultures of other universities, FreeWare? and ShareWare? programmers, ScienceFiction fandom (ScienceFictionFandom?), and a number of other issues. I think that the HackerCulture as typified by RichardStallman and the FreeSoftwareFoundation does not work well with the HackerCulture (CrackerCulture?) of 31337 phul3z, warez d00dz and script kiddies because there's a mismatch of concepts of freedom. By giving RichardStallman and his type free access to computing, I am giving him a chance to make things better, and possibly create greatness. (GNU make isn't greatness, I don't see greatness in EMACS but others do, and the HURD might display greatness if ever completed.) But giving free access to computing to a script kiddie is like giving free access to spraycans to teenagers: one out of a million might make art but most will put up "I wuz hea!" or "Natalie Portman naked and petrified" all over the place. The difference is responsibility. I am tragically close to mentioning the TragedyOfTheCommons at this point, but I will fight against it.

[As an aside, many people (myself included) consider the gcc C compiler to be the greatest contribution of the GNU project. It has largely become the "standard" C compiler for Unix-based systems. (Several other proprietary compilers exist for individual platforms, but none of them are as widely ported as gcc.) The g++ (C++) compiler has had a more difficult time catching up with others, but now appears to be a reasonable choice for C++ development. GCC is also one of the best examples of the FSF licensing keeping software free. More than once a commercial project has tried to restrict a GCC extension, like NeXT tried with the Objective-C code, but the FSF finally convinced them to release the code freely.]

People like the "script kiddies" were a major reason why the early FSF/GNU project had to greatly restrict their shell accounts. At one time it was fairly easy to get a free shell account on an FSF server. Unfortunately, some people would use those servers to attack other servers or services. Nowadays there aren't many good ways to keep immature people away from the Internet. (When Internet access software is bundled with breakfast cereal, it's not exactly limited to the elite. ;-) --CliffordAdams

As for FreeSoftware, RichardStallman would argue, and I would have to agree, that this was the original state of affairs. That when you had software on early computers, everyone had access to it, and it was in the late 70s and early 80s, when vendors stopped shipping source and started just shipping binaries, that everything fell apart and the need for a movement was established. The FreeSoftwareFoundation was established in 1984.--DaveJacoby

Another possible reason for free sofware initially was that computers were hugely expensive, and the software was relatively small. When the customer is paying thousands of dollars per kilobyte of RAM, it's easy to be generous with the 2Kb debugging software package that your programmers wrote in 6 weeks. Also, computers weren't nearly as standardized then as now--many sites would need to modify the software. (For instance, a site might convert a paper-tape debugger to a teletype, or increase some variables to deal with an extra 16Kb of memory.)

Hey, let's not forget Berkeley.

Berkeley is important, I grant. But we're talking FreeSoftware (tm) and that is RichardStallman. TheBSDLicense? is another thing, some would say a BadThing? because it lead to the balkanization of Unix in the 80s, and others would say it is a GoodThing because it lead to the integration of the rock-solid BSD TCP/IP stack into things that needed it, and also for the integration of Unix and Mac in MacOSX?. I hope I have fairly presented both sides of that argument, because I am not too partisan for either side and don't want flames. But when RichardStallman says that FreeSoftware existed before the GnuProject, he means Berkeley Software Distribution, and the failure (in his eyes) of that software to remain free is why he started his work.

Well, on this page, the topic isn't limited to FreeSoftware. Besides, I would contend that Stallman meant the BSD effort exclusively when he referred to FreeSoftware prior to the GnuProject.

Did he talk about FreeSoftware before the GnuProject? His position as a noted geek pretty much comes from the GnuProject, and the only thinks I've heard of about him before that were that EricRaymond met him at some SciFi con years before he started the GnuProject. I think the Berkeley license is an important historical document, but FreeSoftware (or OpenSource, even) wasn't a concept or a point worthy of discussion before he started it and wrote the [GNU General Public Licence]. JargonFile:GPL

And I'm willing to admit that one of the university cultures that has influenced HackerCulture is Berkeley. Also StanfordArtificialIntelligenceLab? and I'm sure a bunch more. I sort of wish Purdue (my school) was a more noted home of HackerCulture, but we gave the world the Debian distro. But it was MIT that got the book written about it.

I highly recommend StephenLevy?'s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution ISBN 0141000511 (alternate, search) for many stories of the MIT and Berkeley computer labs, as well as the later microcomputer revolution. The ending of the book is the story of the beginning of the FSF/GNU project, written as the project was just beginning to become popular. I bought my copy around 1986, and I plan on buying at least one new copy when it is republished in January 2001. --CliffordAdams

Remind me to pick up 2 copies. I read that as a teen and thought it was really neat. I'd rather have RichardStallman as a RoleModel than KevinMitnick any day. --DaveJacoby


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